By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 2:22-35
I have often said that there could be no resurrection without an incarnation. This morning’s gospel story may seem like a real downer. Christmas was only two days ago. God’s Word put on flesh and was born and laid in a manger. An angel chorus proclaimed the good news to the shepherds who went with haste, Luke tells us, to see the baby. The message the angels bring is one of great joy for all people: the birth of a Savior, a Messiah, a Lord. Luke tells us the shepherds gave a full report to Mary of the angelic message. Mary treasured their words and pondered them. What a proud and delighted mama she must have been. But then, just about a month later, when Mary and Joseph – being good, righteous Jews – take Jesus to the temple for the Jewish ritual of pidyon haben, the redemption of the first born, there is another man, Simeon, who approaches the holy family. He too, has received divine guidance; this time from God’s Holy Spirit. He too, has received the message that Jesus is the Messiah and a Savior. He too, has words that Mary will no doubt ponder… but his words are a mixed bag.
For this man, Simeon, also reveals that Jesus will face opposition and that a sword will pierce both of their hearts. Luke doesn’t tell us how Mary responds to this news. But I cannot help but think of people I have been with over the years when they have received the news that a loved one has suddenly and unexpectedly passed or that the surgery to biopsy a mass has revealed a terminal cancer that has already metastasized. I wonder if Mary felt sick and faint and Joseph had to keep her from collapsing.
Friends: Christmas is a lovely, beautiful season. It is so romantically portrayed. Everyone enjoys the story of the baby Jesus… even non-Christians. It’s just such a nice story. But it is only the beginning of the story and it’s important that we know that right up front. This one who came to live among us also came to die for us. There could be no resurrection without a crucifixion and no crucifixion without an incarnation.
*There was once a poor simple-minded man named Joseph, who made his living running errands and carrying packages. He was passing through the streets of London, England, one day and heard singing in a place of worship. He went in, having a large bundle of yarn hanging over his shoulders. A dignified congregation surrounded the minister who was reading from 1st Timothy 1:15: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." He preached from this so clearly the everlasting Gospel, the faithful saying that there is eternal salvation for the worst sinner, the vilest sinner, only through the worthiness of Jesus Christ, the God who made all things. And, likewise, from Galatians 4 he preached: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”
Now many of the congregation did not pay much attention to this message since they had heard it all before. But poor Joseph stared in astonishment and never took his eyes from the preacher. He drank in with eagerness all that minister said; and trudging homeward afterwards, he was heard to mutter to himself, "Joseph never heard this before: Christ Jesus, the God who made all things, came into the world to save sinners like Joseph.. and to adopt them as his children!"
Not long after this Joseph became very ill, with a high fever. As the fever raged, he tossed on his bed, and repeated over and over: "Joseph is the chief of sinners; but Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and Joseph loves Him for this." His neighbors who came to see him did not understand Joseph, for this was all he talked about.
One man who heard Joseph talk this way all the time with such joy, requested the faithful minister to come and visit him. He came, but Joseph was very weak and had not spoken for some time, and when they told him that the minister was there, he did not seem to notice him. BUT when the minister began to speak to him, as soon as he heard the sound of his voice, he sprang upon his elbow, and taking him by his hands, cried as loud as he could with his now feeble and trembling voice, "Oh, Sir! You are the friend of the Lord Jesus whom I heard speak so well of Him. Joseph is the chief of sinners; but Jesus Christ was born into the world to save sinners; and to adopt them as his children. Oh, pray to Jesus for me; pray that He may save me and make me his child. Tell Him that Joseph loves Him for coming into the world to save such sinners as Joseph."
The minister prayed, and when he finished, Joseph thanked him most sincerely. Then he put his hand under his pillow and took out an old rag in which were tied up five guineas. He put it into the minister’s hands, which he had kept close to him all the while, and said, "Joseph, in his foolishness, had laid this up to keep him in his old age, but Joseph will never see old age. Take it and divide it amongst the poor friends of Jesus, and tell them that Joseph gave it them for Jesus' sake; for the sake of the one who came into the world to save sinners and to adopt them as his children." When he had said this, he laid back on the bed. The strain of talking had been too much for him, and he died.
The faithful minister left his room, with tears running down his cheeks. He went on his way. Yet he often told this story of poor Joseph. My friends, I tell you: there is no manger without a cross and no cross without a manger; for when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son… Through that baby laid in the manger, we have been saved and made God’s beloved children.
*Story adapted from: The Little Gleaner
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